How the Second Lebanon War Set the Stage for the War in Syria and the Rise of Iran

Aug. 30 2017

Israel’s war with Hizballah in 2006 seems unrelated to today’s internecine strife in Syria. But in the view of Eyal Zisser, the two conflicts are connected by a thread that runs through the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the Iraq war, Syria’s own withdrawal from Lebanon, and Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East:

Both [the Lebanon war and the Syrian civil war] are manifestations of the inherent weakness of state players in the region, i.e., the Arab states of the Middle East. These states have been weakened and in some cases have all but disappeared, leaving in their wake a vacuum filled by quasi-state organizations like Hizballah and Hamas. . . .

More importantly, these two events are a blatant demonstration of Iran’s penetration into the Levant as part of its drive to attain regional hegemony. . . . In fact, the Second Lebanon War and the Syrian civil war have strengthened Iran’s presence in the region, even if the wars have taken a steep toll on [Hizballah’s leader] Hassan Nasrallah and on Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s local clients. The situation presents Israel with a dilemma as to the right response to the challenge generated by Iran. . . .

Until [Assad succeeded his father, Hafez] in June 2000, Syria had been the entity that set the tone in everything having to do with Lebanon, including Iran’s presence there. Syria had a military presence in Lebanon and controlled the country with an iron fist, while more than once exerting a moderating influence on Hizballah. Moreover, all the political powers in Lebanon subordinated themselves to Damascus and even conducted their communications with Hizballah through Syria. . . .

After Syria was compelled to remove its forces from Lebanon in the spring of 2005, Hizballah finally crawled out from under Syria’s shadow, and together with Iran became the entity that helped Assad withstand the American pressure on him (in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the fall of Saddam Hussein). The Second Lebanon War intensified this trend, increasing the personal, political, and even military dependence of the Syrian president on Iran and Hizballah.

This dependence, and Iranian regional influence, have grown even greater since the civil war began in Syria.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon, Second Lebanon War, Syrian civil war

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy